Year Made: 2014
Platforms: PC, Mac OS, Linux
Content Areas: English, Art
Suggested Age Level: Elementary, Middle School. High School
Play Length: 1 Hour
Number of Players: Single Player
Difficulty Rating: Easy
Developed by Freebird Games as a standalone game after their success with To The Moon, A Bird Story (2014) tells the story of a lonely little boy and the injured bird he rescues all while not saying a word. A Bird Story is a perfect example of a game that leave many players questioning the basic idea of what a video game is. However, just because it reads more as an interactive digital story than a video game does not take away from its ambitions and emotional power.
A Bird Story sets out to connect with players emotionally and establish a narrative that anyone, regardless of language or culture, can connect with a story even if there is no dialogue. Only after the game ends does A Bird Story feature any text between the player and the game. Typically, dialogue is used to create tension, propel plot, and reveal more about characters. For the most part, A Bird Story achieves all three of those goals without using any words. Instead, a symphonic soundtrack and detailed artistic choices establish sympathy for the lonely boy as he walks right through the shadowy classmates that ignore him and humor as the bird literally adds color and joy to the boy's life, helping him grow and become a happier person. The lack of dialogue zeroes in the player's focus on the image and sound to understand the story. The details, not the dialogue become the hero of the story, a lesson that readers can struggle to understand with books.
While the lack of dialogue shapes the story in a new way and achieves the designer's ambitions, it also leads to several confusing moments in the story. At one point, there is a chase scene that ends in a faceless version of the boy blocking off all exits. Nothing ever happens with the faceless character and the sudden threat ends as abruptly as it came. Without any dialogue or text explaining the scene, it was hard to tell what it was meant to be. A dream? An inner conflict? The lack of dialogue and sparse opportunities for interaction sometimes made the game feel too long, even though the playthrough was only an hour long. In one instance, all the player had to do was press the arrow key for an extended period of time with no real chance to explore or do anything else. However, as the boy's internal conflict over his injured feathered friend comes to a head, that same weakness becomes a strength in how it's used. More opportunities to interact with the story (like being able to move in the chase scene) would have improved not only the story, but also the player's ability to remain connected with the boy and his story.
A Bird Story takes away the distraction of dialogue and text and pushes the player into connecting with the story and inferring its message and meaning, regardless of the player's language or culture. It uses setting, sound, plot, and detail to establish theme and characterization throughout the piece, giving it a clear place in an English Language Arts class even if there is little text. Players could write their own interpretation of events or create dialogue they imagined the characters saying or thoughts they might have had at different events. The designer's interest in escaping text and exploring a purely visual story would lend the game to being an example for an art class to have.
A Bird Story succeeds in telling an emotional story without the use of text and could be used successfully in an English or Art class, but its limited interactivity could lead to confusion or decreased interest at certain points. Even with that though, A Bird Story is a short game that would make an excellent exercise in examining what exactly a story and a work of art are and how the two combine to build themes, lead to empathy, and innovate.
Educational Rating: 5/8
(Classroom Tech Friendly, Motivation, Concrete Learning, Additional Skills, Feedback, Difficulty, Accessibility, Extension)
Overall Rating: 4/8
(Immersion, Environment, Storyline, Replayability, Entertainment, Gameplay, Originality, User Control)